How do individuals and organizations create the conditions for possibility and growth? Why does celebrating talent and careers lead to success? What business results have leading organizations seen from supporting recognition cultures?
These insights and more were shared at O.C. Tanner’s eighth annual Executive Recognition Summit held in San Francisco. This year’s Summit brought together senior-level executives, representing industries and organizations from around the world.
The invitation-only conference opened with insights from Dave Petersen, Chief Executive Officer and President of the O.C. Tanner Company. The keynote speaker was Sir Ken Robinson PhD., celebrated TED Conference speaker and New York Times bestselling author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, who challenged leaders to create environments that support creativity and connect people to their element. David Sturt, O.C. Tanner’s Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, talked about the importance of celebrating key career moments and it’s effect on tenure. This was followed by a special presentation by Taylor Ritzel, a member of the U.S. Women’s 8 Rowing Team that won Olympic Gold in London.
A panel discussion led by Rob Etherington and Stacy Markel of Actelion U.S., Ralph Olney of Carestream Health, and Keith Farlinger and Emree Siaroff of BDO Canada, discussed aspects of their recognition journeys and the impressive results attained. The first day ended with the presentation of the O.C. Tanner Recognition Leadership Award to Bank of America. The award was accepted by Bank of America executives: Pete Thedinga, SVP of Leadership Development Executive; Mark Perry, SVP of Commercial Banking, West Region and Lina Young, SVP of Global Recognition Executive.
During Friday’s Best Practice Exchange leaders then learned from each other, sharing both challenges and strategies for success. How do you nurture a culture? This was the question posed by facilitator, Erika Crocker. Four key topics were discussed in depth: Getting senior-level leadership support; Integration and alignment of people initiatives; Inclusivity across the organization and the enterprise; And ongoing program sustainability and evolution.
This paper provides a summary of the best practices shared during the 2012 Summit and reviews how celebrating careers and fostering environments that reward creativity and imagination are the key to success in today’s competitive landscape.
Dave Petersen, President and CEO, O.C. Tanner
The host of the Executive Recognition Summit, Dave Petersen, opened the two-day event by asking the leaders present to reflect on the sense of responsibility that comes from leading people.
“I recently read this in one of Obert Tanner’s journals, ‘Sometimes, when I pull into the company parking lot in the morning and see all those cars representing all of the people who work at my company, I feel a heavy sense of responsibility: All those car payments, all those households and families all depend upon my company for a living and a livelihood. I hope I make good decisions today.’”
“I don’t know how you feel when you look at your parking lot. Do you ever even think about it when you pull in? I hadn’t before I read that note in one of Obert’s writings. Think about how you feel today as leaders in your organizations and what that represents and what it means. Do you feel responsibility? Do you feel appreciation? Do you feel gratitude for these people that show up every day and help you and work together?”
He then asked the audience to think about the CEOs of their own organizations. “What do you think is on their mind most of the time? Either when they come in or while at work. Do you think they even notice the cars or connect the dots between all those cars and all the people in the organization? I think they do. We may sometimes think of our leaders as being preoccupied with strategy, the future, securing results, answering, but I do think most CEOs, contrary to some media supposition, are genuinely interested and focused and caring about their people and genuinely informed and knowledgeable about how dependent they are on them.”
Petersen offered advice on how to better connect leadership teams, or even the CEO, to pay more attention to recognition and appreciation or other people-related matters.
“A few years ago, the CEO of one of the nation’s largest healthcare organizations felt disconnected from his people. They were spread across multiple states in dozens of locations. He sensed that there was a communication problem and that others thought he was out of touch. We helped him to understand that if he would show up just once a month, sometimes even on the graveyard shift to celebrate and recognize the above and beyond achievement or the years of service of one of his people, that several things would happen.”
“One, he would make personal connections. He would make new friends. He would find out what’s going on, without having to read a report. Two, people would talk. Word would get out that he was showing up unexpectedly. Three, he would hear the best speeches he never gave. He would hear his own people talking about working together to achieve hospital goals, patient outcomes, and other critical metrics that he and his leadership team have set. And four, he would go back to his office thinking to himself ‘Boy, I wish I were doing my job as well as that person or that team is doing theirs,’” said Petersen
“Now, I know this is what happens because I experienced it. You know it’s what happens because you experienced it too. Our situations are all different but we can always find ways to show up. We can always make more time for our people,” explained Petersen. “We are all busy. And, the result of rubbing shoulders regularly with everyone is that I’m a little more sensitive. I think I’m a nice person. I like our people. I want to make sure that we’re taking care of them. But having that daily touch point helps me a lot. And then when someone comes along with a people-oriented initiative, I’m right there, I’m ready, and I get it. Maybe better than I would otherwise.”
Petersen concluded by pointing out the side effects for leaders that participated in recognition celebrations.
“It’s wonderful for the person who’s being honored and recognized to be told ‘thank you’ and to be encouraged and of course, it causes them to want to perform and excel over and over again. But there’s this wonderful side effect for all those that also participate especially leaders who rub shoulders and hear what’s happening and understand better what the challenges are and the successes are of the people on their teams.”
David Sturt, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, O.C. Tanner
David Sturt unveiled recent research around the importance of service award programs and the differences in how people feel at various career milestone moments—from the first year to 30 years and beyond.
Starting with research from the Bureau of Labor statistics, Sturt challenged the commonly held notion that people are changing jobs frequently. “Compared to 25 years ago, even 10 years ago are employees staying with the same employer less or more? The United States government does a broad-based study that touches 60,000 households. One of the questions they ask is ‘How long have you been with your current employer?’ Starting out in 1983 what the research shows is that gradually each year the trend line is actually up, not down. In 1998, people stayed on the job 3.6 years before quitting. In 2012, it’s at 4.6 years.”
As Sturt pointed out, “People still want to build a career with a good company. People still want to come and find an organization that they believe in, that they feel like they have opportunities to build a career with.”
But does celebrating careers or having a service award program actually make a difference on tenure? Do you see any difference in average tenure between companies that have career programs and those who do not? According to research conducted by The Cicero Group, organizations that offer a career achievement program keep employees an average of two years longer than organizations that don’t.
“What’s two years of experience worth to you in your organizations?” asked Sturt. “When you compute the ROI on that, it’s pretty easy to look at the cost of turnover in your organization and figure out what the value of two more years is, simply by taking the time to express appreciation for someone building their career with you.”
Sturt then shared further research from The Cicero Group that sought to better understand the psychology behind what people are experiencing at various career stages. “So many organizations think of their career achievement program as the same thing, repeated every five years. Every year is treated the same. But we found there is a very big difference between the years. And as such, these years really need to be treated differently.” He summarized the findings from each year:
Sturt concluded by sharing career celebration best practices and challenged leaders to look for ways to create more of a personalized experience—unique to the particular stage of the person’s career.
“Hopefully, some of these insights we’ve shared from our research will make it possible for people coming into your organization to think, ‘This is a great place to work. This is where I want to build my career. I’d never take my career anywhere else.’”
Taylor Ritzel, Gold Medalist, U.S. Women’s 8 Rowing
For the past twelve years, O.C. Tanner has been honored to design, create, and donate rings for every U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athlete. We’ve seen how so many of these athletes give their heart and soul to their sport and are proud to provide a symbolic reminder of their journey to greatness.
At this year’s Executive Recognition Summit, Taylor Ritzel, a member of the gold-medal winning Women’s 8 Rowing Team, talked about her own personal journey and what winning Olympic gold meant to her. “Every athlete has to overcome some sort of adversity. I had to deal with injury—which helped me truly believe in myself and my abilities. I then had my biggest challenge, the death of my mom. She was the one who got me into rowing and she was just an incredible woman.”
For Ritzel, winning the gold with her team represented the effort and achievement of coming together as a team, in synch and focused on rowing the best possible race they could have had. “It also represents the years of hard work and sacrifices that all of us make. We trained alongside each other for six hours a day, six to seven days a week. Being able to share in that moment with people that I love and people that are so passionate about what we do is just a huge honor and something that I’m just so happy to have been a part of.” Winning Olympic Gold, she concludes represents, “Giving everything you possibly can for your country. Standing on that podium, hearing your national anthem, seeing the flag, being there with my eight other best friends and then seeing my family in the stands was an experience that I’ll definitely never forget.”
Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, Bestselling author and celebrated TED conference speaker
One of the world’s foremost thinkers on creativity and innovation, Sir Ken Robinson, delivered an inspiring keynote that challenged everyone to think differently about human resources and imagination. The New York Times bestselling author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything opened with a rally cry for leaders to create environments that encourage people to discover their talents and passions.
“Most people never discover their real talents or their real abilities. They don’t really know what they’re capable of and don’t enjoy the lives they lead. They endure their lives rather than enjoy them. But I also know people who love what they do, who couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” said Sir Ken.
But, he explained the issue is often creating the right circumstances to help people uncover and identify their talents. “Human talent is often buried deep beneath the surface and you have to go looking for it. This idea of identifying talent of connecting people to their element and of fostering the engagement that comes from that is critical not only for the success of our companies but to our global success.”
He then talked about how being in your element was the clear alignment between passion and talent. “You have to have a natural aptitude for what you’re doing. People have wandered into all kinds of careers because they happen to be good at it, not because they like it. They just have an aptitude for it. To be in your element, you have to love it as well. It’s about passion. The point at which this doesn’t feel like work, it feels more like play.”
How do you know when you’re truly in your element? When your sense of time changes.
“If you’re doing something that you love to do, an hour can feel like 5 minutes. If you’re doing something that you don’t care for, five minutes can feel like an hour. Some activities fuel our energy and others deplete it like people do. You see some people coming towards you and you think, really, not now. Not that they’re bad people but they neutralize or defuse your energy. And other people feed it and lift it and of course when there’s a perfect match of energy. We talk about being in love with people because we feel completed by their energy. If those two things come together, then you can achieve anything. If you’re in your element, you find other people who share your passion. You become part of their lives. They affect your life. New opportunities open up or they don’t.”
The power of our imagination also plays a critical role, offering us as humans an extraordinary set of capacities. He outlined how imagination truly differentiates humans as a species and is the key to our success in the future.
“With imagination, you can look back into the past. You can enter the world via other people. Empathize and see things as they might see them. It’s very interesting in times of conflict that what we aim to do before we do anything else is shut down our sense of empathy for other people. But if you revive people’s imaginations, empathy flows from that source. With imagination you can anticipate the future. You can help to shape it and bring it about too.”
Making the connection between creativity and imagination he pointed out how every person has tremendous power to create the life they’d like to lead. That people truly will create their best work when they’re in their element.
“Real achievement comes for organizations when people are engaged. When we find the best in them and what they’re really capable of and then reward them and validate them for having done it that’s when organizations start to buzz.”
He pointed out that great companies and organizations accept the two core principles of human life: creativity and diversity.
“Human life is inherently and inevitably diverse. We all have very different talents, aptitudes, passions, interests, and very different possibilities. It’s why every CV, every resume is different in part. One of the reasons is biological, where each of us a unique cocktail of possibilities. And one of the things that makes this so is this power of creativity. We are diverse, in a way, because of our creativity.”
Calling out a recent report from IBM, he identified creativity as a major priority for 3,000 top CEOs. Sir Ken also said great companies and organizations accept the principles of creativity and diversity and organic growth and model after them. Every great organization indeed started small, but evolved through the creative energy of the people who were there.
“Human talent is the greatest resource we have and recognizing it and celebrating it is probably the most important strategic step we can take for the health of our communities and organizations. Human organizations are like organisms. They grow on feeling, spirit, strength, optimism, and hope. If you get the energy right you can achieve anything with an organization. If you tap in properly it’s the energy that people represent. It’s why I think the leadership of great organizations is not about command and control but climate control, creating the conditions for growth and possibility.”
Quoting poet AnaÃ¯s Nin, “There came a point where the pain of remaining tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to blossom,” Sir Ken urged leaders to embrace and not contain the talent in their organizations. That in fact, the effort to restrain talent is greater than the effort to cultivate and release it. “The benefits of releasing it,” he concludes, “are enumerable.”
Stacy Markel, Actelion U.S.
“We are a huge fan of recognition at Actelion U.S (a $1.8 billion biopharmaceutical organization) and have really strived hard to embed in our culture this idea of recognition and appreciation. The one thing that I’ve learned as head of our people practices is the HR team, or the Human Capital Team function that really focus on people, cannot do this alone. If you truly want to have a recognition culture, it has to be a partnership and shared ownership with the other executives. Rob and I have been working together on the executive team for eight years now. And we have a president who is completely aligned as well with this idea of appreciation and having a people-centric, unique culture. We really focus on how to bring people together, connecting in different ways, cross functionally—and that starts at the top. So we work really hard as the executive team to create alignment. I’m seen as a business executive and as part of the decision-making on all issues across the business. And from the top, there’s a passion for people and a passion to make Actelion a really special place to work. In the end, we’re all here to connect and help patients and that’s really our guiding principle and we all believe in that and it’s very genuine. It’s been a journey for us and we’ve done a number of things to try to work managers through that including tying it to manager’s or director’s success. And so, with repetition and modeling from the executive team, we instituted some of the care training for all of our new manager trainees and have continued to talk about it and then correlate it back to the sense of engagement and results, which has really helped us get some traction there.”
Rob Etherington, Actelion U.S.
“What we wanted to do was chart a new course with some new innovations. One of the keys that drove the change was recognition as a foundation. That’s when we had a vision where people are the core competency. We wanted to try and emphasize resilience in a much bigger way, train our leadership experientially so they really can digest growth and then teach it through the whole organization and move this whole notion of ‘getting things done’ to execution, and how we flawlessly do that—promote from within and re-energize the core values all around this premise that recognition is a cultural thing. How did we do this? First, we took our team through experiential learning of our core values. Secondly, contest and awards, such as 10 for 10. Where we pick a period of 10 timed points, 10 weeks, 10 months and identify 10 prizes. We found, when we gave money, it was just going to pay the electric bill and nobody could remember it. But now, with the contests, people say, ‘I won this as part of my 10 for 10. We have an EMAX program that stands for Employees Making Actelion Extraordinary, a points system that colleagues give each other and that we as managers give our people so that they can also earn points if they didn’t happen to get them on 10 for 10. And, over the course of the year, we identify a series of colleagues who have done great work and we take them to dinner with executives and just spend a little time personally recognizing them. And then finally, we try to bring healthy challenges through the whole organization. What has happened over the course of the last eight years? Our total number of colleagues has doubled and our revenue growth has really been a big blessing. We’ve been able to see a lot more of our internal colleagues promoted and our turnover rate went from 18% in 2004 to 8.7% last year. The Hay Group, survey which we contracted, said 98% of employees would ask their colleagues or friends to come work with us. In the Bay Area, we’ve been voted as the best place to work five years in a row.”
Ralph Olney, Carestream Health
“Carestream Health, with 7,500 employees from around the world has 75 within the HR group that help to lead the culture change that we have for the company. We were a 100-plus year old company with a culture of entitlement that we wanted to change over time. When you go from an entitlement culture to a culture where you’re really focused on cash flow, it’s a big change. And you need to really get the organization fully engaged and fully supportive in leading that change. One of the key things that we did was bring in recognition systems and recognition processes in order to help us get the type of employee engagement that we needed. We’ve been able to create a vision that’s actually attracting executives and employees for our company. By working with O.C. Tanner, we were able to look at the life cycle of an employee, from the time we actually go out and identify a need to hire individuals into the company, to the time that individuals choose to either stay or to go to another opportunity with another company. In every step of the process, we have embedded different recognition techniques. We’ve also tried to figure out how to distribute 8,000 recognition awards or five-year awards to our employees around the world in 140 different countries. O.C. Tanner helped us figure out how to do that and actually come up with an award that would be reinforcing to the various cultures where we worked around the world. We’re now on a trajectory to have our best year ever since we left Eastman Kodak Company. Our revenues are up almost double digits from last year. If you look at our attrition rates across the company, they’ve actually dropped almost 50% in the last four years, especially in hot areas like China, and Brazil, and India where the growth is, at least for our company, pretty spectacular. Our earnings are up almost two times what they were before we were divested from the old company and recognition is playing a key part in changing the culture and the future of the company.”
Keith Farlinger, BDO Canada
“BDO is the fifth largest accounting tax and consulting firm in Canada. BDO Worldwide is actually the fifth largest international network of audit, tax, and consulting after the big four. Our whole journey started about four or five years ago, when we asked ourselves that question, “Why don’t people know who we are?” We put together a plan that really focused on growing revenue with engaged clients. Instead of 95 individual offices all doing their own things, we wanted BDO to be recognized as a firm in Canada. We wanted to articulate our vision that became a rallying cry for our staff and partners who really wanted to see us work more as one firm. We wanted to be seen by our clients not as an auditor or a tax consultant but one of their partners. Two years ago, we launched the vision at our partners’ meeting and then went out on a roadshow to explain to people what our strategies and vision meant and where we’re going as a firm. If we’re going to get people to stay within our organization, they need to see a growing firm. Our growth strategy was all about growth organically, in our core services, but also in our consulting practice and also through mergers and acquisition. You can see that the benefit of having a brand in the marketplace is a very positive thing. It helps a lot in terms of expanding your business, bringing in the types of people that you want, and growing and selling higher level services. One of the things that is very important in every plan is to make sure you figure out how you’re going to measure things. For all the various pieces of the plan, we figured out measures and are holding people accountable on a year-by-year basis which is very important. We also have a five-point communication strategy—a lot of which is around face-to-face. Once a year, we connect all the offices together by WebEx and we all talk about something or celebrate something together. We have a blog and our people on the blog write about the fantastic things that they do in the communities because we’re a very community-based firm. All the partners have agreed to a partner commitment statement. It’s been a journey but we’re committed to it.”
Emree Siaroff, BDO Canada
“As part of our strategy, we started four years ago working very closely with Aon Hewitt, in terms of trying to measure the engagement of the people within BDO. Out of the 3,200 people that we have in Canada, 400 of them are our partners and each one of those is an owner of the business. So, we needed to make sure that we could capture them and their engagement as well. We identified three key drivers to improve engagement within the firm. By far, the one where we’ve had the most impact is in recognition with the program we call ‘You Make The Difference.’ Since we launched in the fall of 2010, we are just short of 9,000 awards being given out in Canada on a 3,000-person workforce. But the tool only has value if it’s used effectively. A big part of the work that we have done has been around really getting that training out there and really getting people to understand that it’s not just about saying thank you, it’s about how you say thank you, and the effort and energy you put into recognizing people for their accomplishments and the things they’ve done. In offices across the firm, we’ve identified recognition champions. Their role is to really embrace recognition and make sure the training is happening within that office. The recognition champions have quarterly conference calls. We’ve set up their own Internet site using SharePoint where they can share ideas and best practices. We’re divided into five regions across the country and in one of the regions their engagement scores have gone up like from 47% to 63%. There is a direct correlation between their ability to recognize and they’re really doing some great stuff. We see it as a journey but we also have the proof there in the numbers that it can happen.”
Winner: Bank of America
Every year, O.C. Tanner honors an organization for its outstanding leadership in creating a culture that appreciates great work. Four criteria are used in selecting the winner. The strategic nature the company pursues their business goals using recognition. Recognition is actually synchronized with an organizational strategy. The clear support and involvement of senior leaders that help drive a culture of recognition. The use of multiple touch points to make it sustainable and truly part of the culture. Finally, being able to measure and attain noticeable results.
Our winner this year has made recognition part of its employee’s way of being. Since March 2010, its 280,000 employees have appreciated each other more than 2.5 million times and continue to experience over 100,000 recognition moments each month. Recognition is being used to communicate and drive awareness of key initiatives and is proving to have a tangible impact on performance, productivity, and quality. The award was accepted by Bank of America executives: Pete Thedinga, SVP of Leadership Development Executive, Mark Perry, SVP of Commercial Banking, West Region and Lina Young, SVP of Global Recognition Executive.
Mark Perry began by discussing the challenges Bank of America has faced along its journey and the way its teammates have rallied together through recognition. “Prior to the great recession, we spent 10 years acquiring and merging companies and you can imagine just all the distraction that creates. The last three years, we’ve had the opportunity to do no acquiring, no merging and just focus on bringing those cultures together under one culture and focus on our clients. It just is so satisfying to see it all come together. You have two choices when you’re under duress like that. You either start tearing each other apart or you start standing by each other and taking care of each other and I’ve been really proud of the way our team has really supported each other. We covered each other’s back. We’ve gotten very close as a team and it’s been great to see that happen to our culture.”
“One of our five core values is embracing the power of people. And one of the key drivers of that is recognition and I think it’s even more important when employees are doing it with each other, doing it for each other and acknowledging that. It inspires. It motivates. It creates a sense of community.”
Pete Thedinga then emphasized the importance of recognition to leadership and Bank of America’s culture, “We take recognition very seriously, celebrating milestones and rewarding successes. Our culture is one that has a leadership model that drives employee recognition. Our performance management system drives reward and recognition. Our expectations of leaders as they come into our company drive reward and recognition. And because of that, we’ve had long-term employees; the tenure is amazing of our associates and this company. People don’t stay if it’s not worth staying for and our company makes it a point to really emphasize that.”
“We had some goals last year that 50% of our associates would receive some type of award or 75% would receive some type of e-thank you or e-button. In fact, over 63% of our associates received an award last year in that business and 99% of our associates received some type of e-thank you or e-button. And in our partnership with O.C. Tanner and the tools provided to us, it’s been a great asset for us. We know that our employees are our most important asset. We take that seriously.”
Lina Young, who runs Bank of America’s Global Recognition Program, shared the results they’ve seen to date along with initial research on a return on investment story. “We re-launched our programs in March of 2010 so we’ve been live in our new set of programs for two and a half years. During that time there were two and a half million recognition moments. That’s actually just the recognition cards and e-buttons, two and a half million. You add in recognition awards and service appreciation on top of that three and a half million. That’s roughly, on any given business day, any minute in that business day, 13 Bank of America employees being recognized a minute.
“But still, you step back and say, ‘What does that mean? Is that enough? Should it be 15? Is that enough?’ So we are constantly pushing to try to figure out what’s the return on what we’re spending on recognition? What do we get back from that? We actually just completed what I call Phase 1 of a study to try to capture return on investment. We took an isolated population actually in the business that Pete supports that services mortgages. We took a look at that population because they’re already heavily metrics oriented today. We took a look at those critical metrics that drive their business objectives and we found that the folks with more recognition actually had higher productivity and quality scores and this was after the fact. Three additional findings that we got are employees who received at least one piece of recognition outperformed employees who didn’t receive any recognition. As the number of recognition increases, so does their quality and productivity and these are statistically significant relationships. And, the third finding showed there’s a positive relationship between recognition and employee performance that’s consistent, regardless of recognition value, so whether it was a card or a button or if it actually had a value-based award associated with it, it was appreciation and that’s what mattered.”
Young concluded with two stories to illustrate the fact Bank of America employees intrinsically want to recognize and celebrate with one another. And, how being able to redeem awards—just like giving recognition itself—creates a sense of pride and loyalty.
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